The Magic of Motherhood: 7 Parenting Truths from the Harry Potter Series
I recently finished reading the complete Harry Potter series with my daughter. It was a wonderful adventure for the two of us to share, and I found – as we read – that I saw the books and the characters through new eyes this time around.
The first time I read the books it was with breathless joy, staying up all night to tear through the pages, sobbing and laughing and rejoicing and feeling at home with the story – but alone with my thoughts as I processed and understood the words. This time I had a perceptive and inquisitive second voice that would pipe up to ask “why?” or to cry out in anger; and tiny hands to pass me a tissue as we mourned together when a beloved character was taken away.
As I read, I kept coming back to the fact that while it seems to be a story about a boy, it is also a story about family and, really, about mothers. In that spirit, I'm sharing 7 things that the Harry Potter books reinforced for me about parenting, and about motherhood.
Not all mothers are good mothers.
Sometimes, mothers suck. They berate and belittle their children and fail to see the value that they bring to the world if they aren't doing exactly what they are “supposed” to be doing. Sirius Black was raised by one of those. And while it's only in the magical world that your dead mother's portrait can continue to torment you by screaming insults and angry words, I think it represents well the feeling a child who is forced to live with a mother like this has to carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Hagrid also carries the influence of his absent mother, in his physical being and enormous size. He is marked as having giant's blood, and faces ridicule and suspicion frequently as a result. Despite this, he stands out as one of the most accepting, nurturing, and gentle characters – one willing to offer love and comfort to even the least loveable creatures.
With both of these characters, we're reminded that it's not impossible to be better than the way you were raised. With all of their flaws, both Sirius and Hagrid, play vital roles in showing that your childhood and your past don't have to define you.
We have to accept that the best we can do is the best we can do, and we must also accept the limits of others.
Sometimes, as mothers, we have to do things that don't make sense to others. We have to take what may seem like an impossible situation and make the best of it – for our children. We see this happen for two mothers – Voldemort's and Dumbledore's.
Voldemort's mother doesn't have much to offer her son. Born of trickery into a family who pretty much owns the word dysfunctional, his mother can't imagine bringing a child into the world she has inhabited and only wishes to leave. So, in her final act, she manages to get herself to an orphanage where at least her child has a chance at something other than the life she knew.
Dumbledore's mother is also facing the world alone, with her husband imprisoned and her daughter suffering from a dangerous illness. She willingly abandons the life she might have had to do the best she can to care for the child she can't give up.
Both Voldemort and Dumbledore come from broken families, from a history of anger and unhappiness. But each also comes from a mother who did as much as she was capable of to offer a better life to her children than the one she knew for herself . The difference in their outcomes is related to their assessment of their mothers. Voldemort blames his, Dumbledore forgives his.
The role of mother isn't limited to a specific person.
Neville Longbottom isn't unique in the fact that he is growing up without a mother present. But the legendary force that he does have is worthy of repeated mention. Who could forget the boggart appearing as Snape, decked out in grandma's finest outfit? In all seriousness, Neville's grandmother stands as a reminder that sometimes the person who fills the role of mother isn't the one who gave birth to you – but that doesn't make them any less important or influential.
Motherhood doesn't make you weak, it makes you stronger.
Without a doubt, one of my favorite characters is Mrs. Weasley. She is the embodiment of what movies would like us to believe a mother is – nurturing, attentive, reliable, and a little bit flustered by caring for her family. She is genuine and the closest thing that Harry experiences to having a mother of his own. But it's also easy to forget just how powerful and important she is, not only to her family, but to the world she is working to protect.
One of my favorite moments is when Molly Weasley has finally had enough of dear Bellatrix. In that moment of fire and anger, she embodies the essence of what it is to be a mother. You want your children to grow, to find their own strengths, to be their own people. But if someone is intent on harming your child, in any way? They better watch out for mama.
Even one who seems heartless can be altered by loving a child.
Narcissa Malfoy is hardly an example of a good role model, but even as she vows to serve the Dark Lord she is not able to give herself entirely over to his service. Not if the cost is her son. We see this determination in her insistence that Snape make an Unbreakable Vow to protect Draco.
But at the pivotal moment, wherein she decides that the life of her son, Draco, is worth more to her than the wishes of Voldemort, hers is the lie that changes the course of the battle–and once again, Harry is saved by a mother's love.
A mother is ready, and willing, to sacrifice it all her for child.
Which leads us to the mother who is really the center of the whole story, Lily Potter. A mother who, without hesitation, gave her own life in an attempt to save the life of her son. If it weren't for Lily, there would be no Harry, no story, no love to save them all. Her protection, her act of total and unconditional love is the basis for everything that happens.
And really, isn't that the love we all want our children to feel? The kind of love that is freely given, because it is the child who allows us to know what it is to be a mother.
We should celebrate the power of mothers.
But there is one more mother. She isn't a character in the book, per se, but she's there on every page, in every word. JK Rowling wrote the book as she was struggling to make life work as a single mother. She also wrote it after losing the important presence of her own mother. In the process, she welcomed children all over the world into a story that has drawn in readers and held a lasting place in literature.
These stories that are told in this series are tales that changed how much of the world felt about books. About reading. About magic. And every night there are mothers and fathers, sitting together with their children, ready to pick up the first book and take a wondrous journey together. No two journeys are quite the same, but at the heart of it all is the amazing power and wonder of a mother's love.